November 1, 2021

Carving Elder Wood | A Quick Fire Guide

Carving elder wood is challenging but rewarding, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. This post is dedicated to helping you get the results you want. This post has everything you need to carve elder wood successfully. Elderwood is a type of wood commonly used for carving. It is a hardwood that is ideal for carving. Elder wood is also easy to find and relatively cheap, making it a good choice for carving beginners.

What is Elder Wood

Elder wood comes with a soft, weak, and light lumber than all other species of maple and Box Elder’s overall strength. Its strength-to-weight ratio is poor. The sapwood is pale white sometimes with a yellow or green hue similar to yellow poplar. 

The heartwood is grayish or yellowish-brown with red or pink streaks. The tree produces a red stain when wounded for defense. It comes with a straight grain and fine and even texture. That makes it ideal for carving beautiful items. 

The growth rings are faint and non-distinct. It is easy to work with both hand and machine tools. However, the Wood has poor durability when it comes to rot resistance. It is a non-durable perishable wood. The heartwood is subject to heart rot and insect attack. That is why it needs proper treatment for increased life. 

It also makes it great for carving because it turns, glues, and finishes well.  When wet, the elder has a distinct and unpleasant scent. However, it fades away as it gets dry. Elder wood causes skin irritation, runny nose, and asthma-like when you fail to observe the safety precautions. Regarding availability, elder Wood comes in small quantities, with lumber showing reddish-pink heartwood streaks being the most desirable. 

Dyed or stabilized burl blocks are also offered for turning projects. Although the wood comes in small quantities, it remains affordable. The moderate price falls on the standard lumber otherwise, burls are less affordable. 

Sustainability is what elder wood represents. It is for turned objects, small ornamental objects, wood pulp, charcoal, boxes, and crates. Elder wood comes with properties that resemble maple wood. They are both softer, weaker, and lighter than other species.

Types of elder

European Elder

The  European Elder, also called Black Elder is the tallest of the Elders. It grows up to a height of 30 feet. The tree’s berries start green, then turn red before changing to black. Black is a sign that they are ripe and ready to be picked. The berries are poisonous in their raw state. However, that does not mean it is not safe for use. Keep the Elder wood unsafe for consumption. 

American Elder

It is a native species to North America with a significant growth rate traced east of the Rocky Mountains. The American Elder grows to about 10 feet high. That is why it works as a border. It is also an ornamental tree that makes lovely carvings. These are for gift portraits and utensils. The United States uses the tree as a hedge for driveways or sidewalks, and it also makes white flowers and dark purple blackberries.

Blue Elder

Blue elder has large, drooping clusters of dark blueberries harvested in late autumn. Its form differs depending on the growing conditions. A glaucous sheen forms on the surface of the berries, giving them a cobalt blue appearance.

Specialization in elder wood

Elder wood specializes in turned objects, small ornamental objects, wood pulp, charcoal, boxes, and crates. It is sometimes called Ash-leaved Maple because of its non-typical leaves. It also belongs to the hardwood family. 

Elder wood is for food containers such as crates and barrels. That shows how safe it is for food prep items. Woodworkers have cut wooden utensils from Elder wood without problems. The wood also makes standard furniture, cabinets, and multiple carvings.

Types of carving elder wood

  • Chip carving
  • Relief carving
  • Scandinavian flat-plane
  • Dievdirbys
  • Lovespoon
  • Treen
  • Whittling
  • Chainsaw carving
  • Florentine carving


Boxelder is soft, light wood that never attained the woodworking status of the hard-and-grained sugar maple. It tolerates climate extremes and drought. It grows to greater stature, providing needed shade and shelter. It grows to any significant size. 

The light wood makes boxes, carvings, turnings, treenware, toys, furniture, or storage projects. However, it lacks the beauty and resistance to storm damage. The spalted box elder comes with raspberry streaks, and it is not affordable due to its accent work and turns. However, it is not for outdoor projects.

What can you do with elder wood?

Twig Pencils

Elder wood makes real pencils. However, they are not for actual drawing since charcoal does not stand up to sharpening once the protruding length has worn down. They make excellent gifts for kids, and turn charcoal into dust when you keep it in your pockets.


Gather your tools as you get ready for the task. A whistle is a classic item that needs practice to start making it. That is a tent peg and a sharp knife. A hacksaw makes the vertical stop cut for children. A stick with a bigger bore is easier to work on and also makes a deeper noise. 

Fire pipe

The fire pipe is needed when your fire needs a little oxygen boost.  It is about 60 cm long, and you should push the pith out with the heaviest gauge fencing wire, which requires a fair bit of force. Refresh the wire several times since it loses rigidity when it bends under pressure. 

You can decorate the outside with a bit of chip carving. Enlarge the hole at the mouth end with a gimlet to allow more air in. That way, you have a tactile and useful tool for your woodland camp or living room wood burner.

Choosing a piece of Elder Wood

When choosing a piece of Elder wood, trace back its origins so that you get its strengths and weaknesses. Its properties determine if it is perfect for your project. Its characteristics, description, and composition of Elderwood help you choose the proper tools for the carving project. Take your time since the type of Elder wood determines the quality and durability of your project. It would help if you also read our guide on Carving Greenwood.

Sanding and Preparing the wood

Do not start sanding with fine sandpaper on unfinished Elderwood. That destroys rather than smoothens the surface. Use a medium paper as you prepare the surface and move to finer grades. Start sanding in the direction of the grain using a #120-150 grit paper if theElder wood is still raw. That is before you move to the #220 grit paper.

Is elder wood a hardwood

Yes, elder wood is hardwood. This means that it is ideal for carving. The hardness of the wood makes it less likely to chip or break during carving.

Is elder wood a good choice for beginners

Elder wood is a good choice for beginners because it is easy to find and relatively cheap. Carving with elder wood is also a good way to learn the basics of carving.

David D. Hughes

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